Profile - Sean Langdon
On the Discovery Yachts website, there’s a phrase - for a life less ordinary - the perfect way to describe CEO Sean Langdon’s career and his general ethos. He grew up in Saltash, Cornwall, learning to sail with the local sailing club and crewing on his father’s cruisers.
Aged 17, Sean was asked to look after an acquaintance’s 35ft yacht which involved him sailing using wind power only as the petrol engine didn’t work very often. He was also an engineering apprentice with the MOD, based at Plymouth dockyard and became popular with his peers who were keen to join him sailing.
After completing his apprenticeship, Sean moved on from the MOD and applied/secured a Government-backed Enterprise Allowance, buying a 42ft Ferro cement boat, the cheapest hull he could find. “I spent so much time in a spare parts shop they offered me a job.”
A chance meeting with some sailing school owners at the Plymouth Boat Show prompted Sean, then 22, to abandon his boat building plans to teach sailing. “I worked for a few sailing schools before joining a firm in Gosport where we also sold foreign charters to our students.”
This signalled the start of a global career. “I got talking to a company in Austria with bases in Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Italy and the Caribbean, spending time in Turkey, the Caribbean and Croatia, even while the latter was at war.”
In 1993, Sean joined a charter agency based in Kingston-upon-Thames and while at the Southampton Boat Show he met his future wife, Kerstin. “She owned a sailing school so I joined her firm to set up the foreign charter side of the business.”
They then acquired another sailing school and ran flotilla holidays in Greece (employees included the British yachtsman Alex Thomson). A decision to sell the business in 1999 pre-empted a period of ‘bad luck’. “Prior to the agreed sale in 2000, the market crashed; we sold no courses at the London Boat Show and the 35ft catamaran we intended to display didn’t turn up, as the delivery skipper had a dental appointment.”
Their buyers subsequently lost their investment streams and pulled out of the sale, leaving the couple with a business to be sold off in parts. “Although these were ‘dark days’, in hindsight, this was one of the best things that happened to us. We learnt so much from the whole experience; it made us stronger and gave us opportunities we would never have considered.”
Next stop was running and selling a small boat agency, followed by a role as European sales director with US-firm Hunter (Legend yachts in the UK). In 2008, a job offer ‘out of the blue’ as chief operating officer for Qatar-based Alfardan Marine, prompted a move abroad. “They felt immune from the financial crash and when I arrived, the business had $56m of yachts on order and craft including Riva 85, a couple of Dominator 62s and a Dalla Pieta 56 in stock. This was an opulent world, but not the ‘real world’.”
A year later, Sean, Kerstin and his youngest stepson moved to Turkey for ‘some time out’. They stayed for four years and during this time, Sean took up a consultancy role with a RIB builder in China. “I visited China on three occasions, spending two or three months at a time there travelling all over.”
In 2014, Sean was appointed sales and marketing director for Elan Yachts in Slovenia. Having put together a bid to buy Southerly Yachts, which was rejected by the board, Sean left Elan to source funding to buy Southerly himself.
“I was keen to speak to boat builders and while in discussion with Discovery Yachts founder, John Chandler, it became clear if we put together the right business plan, we could attract investors and buy Southerly.”
Initial investment and a peer to peer loan kick-started the new business in April 2017 and Southerly was added soon after in June. “We developed a new yacht, the 480, using the Southerly 47 hull as the base, extending the deck and a new interior to Discovery standards.”
Its presence at the Dusseldorf Boat Show in January 2018 and a successful crowd-funding initiative signalled a growth spurt for Discovery. “We sold five off plan and are now building boat number 11.”
Discovery staff numbers have grown from 35 to 120, the firm has a purpose-built admin HQ in Lymington that opened early 2019 and a factory in Marchwood, Southampton, producing the award-winning Longitude, Southerly, Bluewater, Revelation and Britannia models. A Euro and US Dollar pricing option has also been introduced, which Sean believes is vital for competing in a global market.
“As an industry in the UK we should spend more time working together, promoting our work on a global platform, instead of competing against each other. There’s a massive role for British Marine here."
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